The Farms Emerge

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As most of its citizens know, the town of Lexington existed for many years before it got that name—bestowed in the legislative order of 1713 that raised it from its prior status as a precinct of Cambridge to the status of a full-fledged township. The order gave no reason for the choice of this name, which doesn’t appear in any previous document related to the town. The inhabitants’ petition for township status has been lost, so there’s no way to know if the people who were about to become Lexingtonians expressed any preference in the matter.

No one knows for certain whose idea it was to call the former Cambridge Farms “Lexington” instead of “Farmington” or “Pleasantville” or somesuch. Joseph Dudley, governor of the Province of Massachusetts (who signed the order, and did have the authority to name new towns), is certainly a prime suspect, but even if we knew for sure that he made the choice, we still wouldn’t know exactly why he settled on this particular name. Historians have, of course, speculated on the subject, and this website takes it up here.

The part of Cambridge that would eventually become Lexington lay to the northwest of the town, beyond a village called Menotomy, which is Arlington today. This area was bounded to the southeast by a line that divided the western parts of Cambridge from Watertown, and to the northwest by a line that divided Cambridge from Charlestown. Both lines both ran from southeast to northwest, but at diverging angles, so that the breadth of land between them increased as one went in that direction. It isn’t certain just when this land beyond Menotomy became sufficiently involved in the life and business of Cambridge to be given a name.

During Cambridge’s first six years (when it was still named Newe Towne), there was no formal statement that set a boundary to the town’s northwest expansion, but in 1636 the General Court declared that “Newe Towne bounds shall run eight myles into the country, from their meeteing house.” This established a northwestern border known as the eight-mile line, which was drawn perpendicular to the Newe Towne-Charlestown line. (The western part of the Newe Towne-Charlestown line became the Cambridge-Woburn line after Cambridge adopted its present namein 1638 and Woburn, originally part of Charlestown, became an independent town in 1642.) The eight-mile line that marked the limit of Newe Towne/Cambridge’s territory ran southwest for about four miles, from the point where Vine Brook crosses the Woburn line to a hill, now in Lincoln, called at that time Mount Tabor. (Later it was more modestly named Tabor Hill. It overlooks a part of the reservoir that was created in the 1890s by damming Hobbs’ Brook.) It seems likely that people in Newe Towne (or Cambridge) began referring to “the Farms” soon after the drawing of the eight-mile line made it clear that this area belonged to the town.